Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What Does a Co-Taught Class Look Like?

Before we talk about what a co-teaching classroom looks like, let's begin by changing your mind about the way Special Education services are delivered.

First, let me say that this next part is going to take a few people by surprise. At first, you're going to be shocked, feel betrayed, think that someone's pulled a fast one on you. Then you'll start to think about it a bit and your head will start nodding up and down as you realize that this truly is possible. This next part is the power of Co-Teaching.

Co-Teaching is the single most efficient and effective way to deliver Special Education Services to ALL students in the Least Restrictive Environment.
Take a moment to think about that. We're not just talking about reaching your high functioning Special Education students here. The methods I'm going to introduce to you can allow you to reach ALL students, but it's going to require a change in thinking about how we deliver Special Education services.

In the past, services were delivered through a pull-out model. This model was based on the idea that students could not receive specialized services within a classroom and therefore needed to be removed from the classroom to receive those services. There are other students who, because of the nature of their disabilities, are not able to participate in grade level curriculum and require modifications to the way that they are learning. Most often these students are also removed from the classroom to receive those services in a self-contained setting. If you've read the previous posts on Co-Teaching we've already discussed why pulling kids out of the classroom is not effective.

No matter how good of a Resource teacher you think you are, you cannot reproduce the type of learning that takes place in the classroom.
You can't bring in adequate peer role models for each lesson, or reproduce the types of activities or conversations that take place in a general education classroom. It just can't be done.

The first misconception that you'll have to get rid of is the idea that kids learn better outside their classroom. There is tons and tons of research to support the fact that kids learn best alongside their peers. Bottom line. Why do you think the concept of Least Restrictive Environment was put into Federal Law? The more a student is removed from the room, the less they learn. Yeah, they might gain a few extra skills in a Resource room, but how many skills are they missing out on at the same time?

Let's set aside the lesson itself for a moment and think about all the other skills that kids gain from a General Education classroom: peer relationships, communication skills, working in groups, leadership, listening skills, the list goes on. Aside from the actual grade level expectations, there are a plethora of other things that kids need to learn in order to be marketable in the real world. Some would say these skills are more important than the actual lesson for some of these kids who may not have an academic career in their future. Many will rely on interpersonal skills and team building more than they will on academic prowess.

If you've gotten anything out of this post so far, I hope you can accept the idea that the General Education classroom is the best place for these kids. If you have, then you are ready to take your first step into successful Co-Teaching.

But how can kids that are two or more years below grade level participate in a General Education Classroom?

Good Question. Here's why the Guarantees that were introduced in the last post are so important. With good planning any lesson can be adapted to fit the needs of every student and with the support of two teachers, any classroom can become the perfect delivery. Sound too good to be true? Stick with me!

Let's explore how we're going to meet the needs of ALL students in a Co-Taught classroom:

The first thing to consider is classroom makeup. I can tell you from first hand experience, this is going to be the area that many General Education Teachers are going to frown at the most. Many are frightened by the idea of a large number of Special Education students being in one classroom. This will need to be the case in most instances unless you are fortunate to have enough Special Education teachers to facilitate more than one co-taught classroom in each grade and is also the reason that it's so important for your general classroom teacher to be able to count on their co-teacher. Remember, BOTH teachers are responsible for the class all the time. The recommended compisition is that the classroom be made up of NO MORE than 40% Special Education students. This means in a classroom of 22, no more than 8 or 9 students should be in Special Education. (Obviously these numbers may vary depending on the actual nature of the students' disabilities and manageability.)

"But we have more than that in a particular grade level!" I hear you scream.
So do we.
Here's where careful planning comes in. Sit down with your teachers, administrators (and sometimes parents) and think about which students really need to be in a Co-taught class. Are there some that need less support, perhaps those who need accommodations or inclusions support? Put a couple of kids in a different room, you can meet their needs in other ways.

Flexibility is still the key in a co-taught setting. Once you begin to see the intention of how we're proposing to set up your program, you may begin to see where you'll have more support for the program than you realize. You may need other resource teachers, content mastery teachers, or other special program teachers to assist to help meet the needs of the students. Co-teaching should not replace all of your existing programs, but may help you rethink how those services are delivered as well.

Just remember one important thing, keep your co-taught room as manageable as possible. Even if you have to put a few more kids than recommended, just remember that you don't want to overload the room because then you'll defeat the entire purpose of having your students with special needs in a general education classroom. They need good peer role models. That means that the rest of the students in your co-taught class need to be average to above average students.

You can have a couple of high needs general education students in there as well, but pay very close attention to the students in the rest of the class. If these kids truly are going to benefit from co-teaching, you will need to consider the class from multiple angles: behaviors, high needs, etc. Sometimes this means hand-picking a few kids to be in that room.

Here's an example of what a Co-Taught class could look like:

  • 20% Above average students
  • 40% Average performers
  • 40% Special Education
Obviously there are many other factors that go into choosing students for these rooms and decisions about the students that go into these classrooms need to be made with everyone involved. It should be no surprise to a teacher what students they will have. If they know they can count on their Co-Teacher, they will be more willing to try this out.

Part of the 40% of Special Education students may be those who qualify for modified curriculum expectations. Some schools put these kids in Self-Contained programs, but here's an alternative way to meet their needs.

Many students who are low functioning can still participate in a classroom with the appropriate modifications. When planning, your Co-Teacher can take activities the classroom teacher has planned and modify them to meet the needs of those low performers. This ensures that ALL students receive grade level instruction, and their individual needs are met through modifications and small group instruction. We will examine more specific examples that this can take place in future posts.

One more thing that I can't stress enough. When making decisions for a co-taught classroom the criterion for placing students is NOT whether or not they will pass the state examinations. Some of these students may be on a modified curriculum and their expectations may not be the same as their grade level peers. The purpose for co-teaching is not to get every child to pass the state examination, the purpose is for all students to be instructed at their grade level. Be sure your general education teachers know this. Of course we all hope that more students will be able to pass their state examinations, but the first priority of co-teaching is not to teach to the test. Classroom work will need to be modified for those students who are not capable of performing at grade level. That is still an IEP Committee decision. Co-teaching does, however, give the students more of an opportunity to take and pass their state examinations.

Now that you have an idea of what a co-taught classroom should look like from the student perspective we will examine how it should look from a teacher's perspective. In the next post we will examine the different methods for delivering instruction in a co-taught classroom. Always remember, this information is a guide as to the best practices in co-teaching based on research, schools who have tried it, and my own experience with co-teaching. You will need to decide how to make co-teaching work for you, I hope that this information helps.

In the next few posts you will see how two teachers truly are better than one, how well thought out lesson planning makes everyone's lives easier, how simple accommodations and modifications can mean the difference between success and failure, and how you can be a part of an exciting change to the face of education. You'll get forms and tools to help you with your planning (we've done all the work for you!). You'll get ideas on how to make documentation easier (check out Documentation. It's a SNAP!). You'll see how technology is paving the way for students to be able to participate in ways they've never before dreamed of. All this and much, much, more! (You'll even get first hand accounts from teachers who are embarking on their journey into co-teaching. You'll share in their apprehension, joy, and success!)

Many people accuse schools of not doing enough to prepare kids for the future. Co-teaching is just one of the ways we can ensure that our students have the skills necessary to be successful in the workforce. No matter how many times it's been said, it's still true:

You CAN make a difference in the life of a child!


  • Co-Teaching Formats and Methods

  • Making Co-Teaching Work with Existing Personnel
  • What are the types of Co-Teaching?
  • Choosing Teachers for Co-Teaching
  • Lesson Planning for Co-Teachers
  • Strategies for Co-Taught Classrooms
  • Behavior Strategies that Work!
  • How to Avoid the Perils and Pitfalls of Co-Teaching
  • And more!